It seems that, while many contemporary plein air artists are attracted to city scenes with its remarkable architecture and animated population, they prefer not to be bothered by the later. So, some have devised ways to discourage interruption while they paint. One artist said he would put a tin cup labeled ‘tips’ near his easel and would nudge it with his foot toward anyone who might want to approach. Another artist said he would bring his pit bull dog with him and chain it to a leg of his easel. There’s also the ‘cough uncontrollably’ technique or the straight-forward message, ‘artist does not talk while painting’ sign scrawled in large letters on cardboard hung over their shoulders like a sandwich sign.
There are other challenges such as business owners chasing the artist away from their stores, birds perched on the sign above the artist’s easel, head-thumping music from passing low riders, beggars and more.
Yet the opportunities for the Christian plein air painter outweigh them all. I discovered this truth in 2001 when hastily put together a few art supplies and took them to a busy street near my home. Although I was no stranger to plein air painting (I began in the early 1960’s), I had never had a deeply moving encounter with God on a street corner.
A lot of people want to talk about God… they’re just waiting for someone to start the conversation.
I pitched my easel near a bus stop. It wasn’t long before a group of teenagers began showing up as they were on their way to school. One came over, then another. Soon I was surrounded. Initially I did the mandatory artist-en-plein-air routine; ignore them and hope they would go away. Then my heart got the better of me, so I decided to engage them in conversation.
I asked them how things were going in school, what plans they had after graduation…plans for their lives. I got the typical teen answers; vague, brief and to the point. Then I asked them what plans they thought God had for them. It was like a cork had popped off a shook-up soda bottle with several of them. They spoke in very definite terms about what they saw God doing in their lives and the big plans He had for them.
That was a transformative moment in my life that has moved me to paint en plein air with purpose, God’s purpose, for over ten years. I paint primarily in urban settings, but will go anywhere God leads me from concrete to country roads to share the love of Christ.
What I discovered on that street corner with the teens, and have seen confirmed on hundreds of street corners since then is that a lot of people want to talk about God… they’re just waiting for someone to start the conversation. A greater revelation is that people are not ashamed to bow their heads and make a personal commitment to Christ in that public setting. If God could use me in such a way to change people’s eternal destiny, certainly He would want other artists to use their talent in a similar fashion. So, Jesus En Plein Air was born.